The UK’s largest Indian migrant women’s group has announced a protest against the Metropolitan Police for repeated failures in addressing issues faced by first generation migrant women in the UK and the force’s failure to address a serious lack of understanding in how to handle cases of the physical, emotional and psychological violence endured by these individuals.
The protest will take place on 11 May between 3pm-5pm, outside New Scotland Yard in Central London and will involve members of Indian Ladies in UK (ILUK), a 40,000-strong community of first generation Indian migrant women.
Founded by journalist and women’s rights activist Poonam Joshi in 2015, ILUK began as a community resource for newly arrived migrant Indian women to connect and network. It has since evolved into a campaign group that supports and advocates on behalf of women who fall victim to domestic violence, coercive control and abandonment at the hands of their spouses – in an overwhelming majority of cases, these victims arrive in the UK on ‘Dependent Visas’ sponsored by British citizens British permanent residents of Indian origin.
These victims’ circumstances present unique challenges – they are in an entirely alien environment; they lack a support network; their visa status means that they are often unable to access public services; language and cultural barriers mean that, quite often, reporting abuse is as terrifying as experiencing it; above all, a lack of understanding of the law and their legal rights hampers their ability to obtain help and support.
Ms Joshi says: “Nearly a decade ago HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, in a scathing report, said that tens of thousands of women were put at risk because of the widespread failure of police forces across the country to tackle domestic violence. Just two years ago, report by the Centre for Women’s Justice raised serious concerns that police forces were failing to use protective measures in cases involving violence against women. From my own personal experiences dealing with victims things have not changed at all.
These failures are doubly damaging to first generation migrants because they not only have to contend with the trauma of abuse but then have to deal with a system that lacks understanding of the support that they require and urgently need.
Often the default position is to take the abuser’s word at face value because these particular victims are unable to articulate what they are going through and are unable, unwilling or too fearful to demand their rights.
We need a dramatic change in police attitudes, empathy and education of officers who deal with these victims.”
Below are the stories of three victims that ILUK have recently dealt with and the challenges they faced. Names have been changed to protect victims’ identity.
1) Anita – Anita is an Indian citizen who arrived in the UK with her 14-month-old baby daughter after getting married in India to her British husband. After the marriage, Anita was kept in India by her husband. She gave birth to their daughter in India and only later did he decide to move her to the UK. When she arrived here she found that she would be sharing her marital home not just with her husband but his two sisters, his mother and his father. Her abuse began soon after she arrived. After facing extreme physical and psychological abuse, she reported the matter to the police. Her husband was then removed from the house only for the abuse to continue at the hands of the in-laws who began pressuring Anita to leave the house. ILUK advised her not to leave the house as she would not be allowed back in. We also told her to keep her passport with her at all times. One day, after stepping out to buy nappies, she was locked out. ILUK called the Police who went to the address and asked HER to not try to enter the house and told that she may be “trespassing”. We requested the police to arrange emergency accommodation or at least, contact social services – a request that was flatly denied. A vulnerable mother was left to fend for herself on the streets. She was later house by ILUK while her family in India arranged for her to return to Mumbai. Police have now opened a case of “child abduction” against her.
2) Sakshi – Sakshi moved to the UK with her husband 8 years ago. Soon after, she was subject to violence and coercive control. Police were called to the house several times and each time the husband was let go after he being given “words of advice”. She contacted the Police in March and the husband was arrested. But she too was asked to leave her marital home by the police. Once again, police made no effort to inform social services. The husband was let out within 24 hours and allowed back home. The lady was being pressurised to hand over the kids (holders of Indian passports) to her husband as he feared she may leave the country. The Police who made her homeless and provided no other help saw her at her friend’s place and left. Unable to find any help or protection from the authorities she left the UK on 3rd April and is now also facing a police investigation for child abduction. Social Services only attempted to contact her two weeks after she had left the country and almost 3 weeks after the Police asked her to vacate her home.
3) Aparna – Aparna called the Police to report domestic violence twice in February, the police failed to take action. Her husband then locked her out of the marital home and made a complaint against his wife for being violent. As a result, she was arrested immediately. This lady who was going through an extreme nervous breakdown was detained by the Police and was released at 3.00 am and told not to return to her “husband’s home” – her marital home. No arrangements were made for her. As a migrant, she had no support network and no access to money. She was forced to spend 36 hours at an all-hours McDonald’s restaurant before she eventually contacted ILUK. We arranged accommodation for her but the Police refused to take any responsibility. After several nights in temporary accommodation her family sent a ticket to India and she travelled back. The court asked her to stay away from the property for 1 year which means her 9-year-old daughter is separated from her. She cannot enter her own home. Had the Police acted on her initial complaint, things would not have escalated.
Ms Joshi says: “In the above cases and in many others, there have been routine failures by police to properly establish the circumstances and deal with victims with empathy. Time and again all I hear is the police carrying out a ‘box-ticking exercise’ and wash their hands off the situation and leave victims in even more vulnerable positions. In a vast majority of these cases, police have made it a habit of asking VICTIMS to leave their homes – often because their husbands, their “sponsors” in the UK, have ownership of the property – without making the necessary referrals to refuges or housing or social services. Most women have no clue about their rights or who to reach out for help.
Where abusers have been reported to the Police, their strategy is to immediately inform the Home Office and cancel their spouse’s’ visa. The Home Office is under no obligation to check or verify well-being or ensure safety and merely cancels the visa on the sponsor partner’s recommendation.
It’s a vicious cycle affecting hundreds of victims ENABLED by the authorities and police services.”
ABOUT ILUK: Established in 2015, ILUK is a 40,000-member strong community that first began as a social media network aimed at helping first generation migrant Indian women to connect as they established themselves in the UK. Since then it has evolved into an entirely volunteer-led, self-funded organization that has not only helped thousands of women who have fallen victim to domestic abuse and abandonment since coming to the UK, but also been an invaluable source of support, information and community for countless thousands more. ILUK also works closely with the Indian High Commission to obtain a variety of support services for Indian-origin women. It also helps lobby both the Indian and UK governments on issues such as spousal abandonment and support for women unable to access support services in the UK.